Do You Need a Lawyer if you Plan to Plead Guilty?

There is an old saying that goes something like this: if you do the crime, you do the time. Sure, there are consequences for breaking the law – but those consequences vary based on a variety of factors. From the circumstances of the crime to your criminal history or lack thereof, and even aspects of your personal life such as your employment, your grades and academic reputation if you are enrolled in school, and what kind of support system you have at home can impact what charges are brought against you and how you are sentenced. Some of these factors are mitigating and may lessen the severity of the outcome, whereas other factors are considered aggravating and may open the door to harsher sentencing. 

Prosecutors usually have discretion as to what charges are brought against a defendant and what kind of punishment the defendant receives by offering a plea deal to save the time and money it costs the State to carry a case through trial. Likewise, the judge may have discretion as to sentencing. Therefore, even if you plan to plead guilty, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer who understands how the prosecutor and judge typically handle charges like those brought against you, and who can develop a strategy to get the best possible outcome for your case. 

You must understand the charges brought against you, and how a guilty plea can affect your life both through immediate consequences and collateral impact. Pleading guilty to a crime can do more than just cost you money and a few days behind bars – it can also create a criminal record that will follow you for the rest of your life, impeding your ability to get an education, limiting your job opportunities, and even restricting your housing options. Having a criminal defense attorney on your side will ensure you have an advocate to help you understand the full impact of a guilty plea, what other options you may have, and who can negotiate the best possible plea deal with the prosecutor to limit the impact on your life. Even if you acknowledge that you committed a crime, there could be insufficient evidence, a flaw in the police report or search warrant, or a defect in equipment that would impede the state’s ability to convict you and therefore, may mean proceeding to trial is your best option. 

If you decide to plead guilty, you may waive certain rights by taking a conviction such as your right to vote, bear arms, and it can even impact your child custody and visitation arrangements and subject you to professional discipline and/or license suspension. Therefore, before pleading guilty, it is important to understand your options, how a guilty plea will impact your life both immediately and long-term, and whether the State has sufficient evidence to convict you if you decided to proceed to trial. In other words, if you plan to plead guilty, you need a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to ensure the best possible outcome for your life.